NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Elder fraud legislation to be heard in banking committee

SB 278 addresses victims of elder financial abuse.
Elder fraud legislation
Posted at 7:23 PM, Apr 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-19 02:12:06-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Team 10 is closely following new proposed legislation that could strengthen protections for victims of elder financial abuse.

SB 278 is scheduled to be heard in California’s Senate Banking and Financial Institution Committee Wednesday. The legislation would “clarify that victims of financial elder abuse can continue to hold institutions accountable when they should have known of the fraud but negligently assisted in the transfer anyway,” according to a news release from State Sen. Bill Dodd, who introduced the legislation.

“We just think this bill is so important to be able to send the signal to banks, that they've got to do a better job of educating their managers, their loan officers and people that deal with the public every day,” Dodd said.

Over the past several months, Team 10 has reported on senior citizens falling victim to online scams involving wire transfers. That includes William and Ave Bortz.

Back in 2021, William Bortz received an email from what he thought was Amazon. It said they purchased around $1,500 worth of products being sent to a different address. The email requested a call to a 1 (866) phone number to fix the issue. “I took over the phone call,” Bortz told Team 10 in an interview last year.

The scammer was able to gain remote access to his computer and convinced him to wire money to Hong Kong and China on four separate transactions. In all, he lost nearly $700,000.

Ave Williams, William Bortz’s daughter, said the scammer was persistent calling her parents “from six in the morning to six in the evening.”

Bortz said the scammer coached him on what to say to Chase representatives. He said nobody at the Chase branches questioned the hundreds of thousands of dollars being sent overseas.

“They asked me if I would consider being a client of their private banking operation because I had assets to invest,” Bortz said.

Since Team 10’s first interview with the Bortz family last summer, they moved from their Poway home to Villa Lorena Senior Living, an assisted living facility. His wife, also named Ave, was not present for the interview as she deals with ongoing health issues.

According to Dodd, stories like William and Ave Bortz helped move the legislation forward.

“The seniors that you interviewed, it was so staggering,” Dodd said. “When that came to my attention, it made it just more important to get this done.”

The FBI reported that seniors lost more than $1.7 billion in various schemes in 2021. That amount is likely higher now.

“Pushing approval of this type of legislation is absolutely something is needed, because the banks are not going to change unless you force them to change,” Bortz said.

Ave Williams said she has spoken to both her parents about scams, but this one was sophisticated and fast. She believes that is why banks need to be part of the solution and not the problem.

“The scammers are counting on the fact that the banks won't question and will just let it go by,” Williams said.

Team 10 reached out to Chase for a comment about the legislation and got a response from the California Bankers Association. In a written statement, the association said:

“Senator Dodd’s measure (SB 278), while well-intentioned, would fundamentally change the way banks and other businesses engage with seniors by establishing a de facto fiduciary conservator relationship.

It requires insurance providers, caregivers, technology service providers, real estate agents, banks, and credit unions to question their senior customers'/members' financial decisions and reject those decisions when they find them unwise.

Financial institutions, for example, will be forced to make very conservative decisions about transactions initiated by seniors, and this may lead to processing delays that will impair anything from the most routine financial transactions to time-sensitive real estate transactions.”

William and Ave Bortz have an ongoing lawsuit against Chase filed in federal court. Chase has previous told Team 10 it “provides several tools and resources to help consumers” on their website.

Williams and her father are scheduled to testify during Wednesday’s committee hearing. “If it helps us create positive change by speaking up by being the voice for people who haven't had anyone to hear them, let's go,” Williams said. “I'm in. We're in.”